Walkman, The World’s First Affordable Portable Music Player Turns 40 Today

The revolutionizing Sony Walkman turns 40 today. Its dominance has faded since the iPod debuted in 2001.
Donna Fuscaldo
Sony Walkman Sony Walkman/iStock

Music listening was revolutionized forty years ago today. It wasn’t Apple that was behind it but Sony, the consumer electronics giant hailing out of Japan. 

On July 1, 1979, it launched the Walkman, an affordable portable music player that was immediately a smash hit. 


Sony wasn’t the first to roll out a portable device to listen to music and shut out the rest of the world, but it was the first to bring the cost down low enough to be embraced by the masses. First available in Japan for about $150, it came to the U.S. a year later. Sony was so successful that the Walkman quickly became synonymous with portable music players just like the iPhone did with mobile devices. It was able to sell 50,000 in the first two months alone.

Apple Stole Sony's Thunder With The iPod 

For years Sony dominated the market. When cassettes become obsolete, Sony launched a portable CD player. But the consumer electronics giant’s dominance ended, curtsey of Apple. It launched the iPod in 2001 and sales of the Walkman and its predecessor the Discman started to plummet. After all who didn’t want the convenience of downloading digital tunes on demand? 

Anyone who grew up in the cassette era knows all too well about listening to the radio for hours to record a favorite song. Even if consumers purchased full cassette albums making a mixed tape required work. With the iPod and iTunes, that went out the window. Pay 99 cents and download the songs you want. Upload them to the iPod and you were done. Sony adapted again, rolling out Walkmans that could play Mp3s. But its late entrance made it hard to take on Apple. Before long the Walkman became a relic, similar to the fate of the Blackberry, thanks again to Apple. 

While Apple is still a dominant player in digital music, the marketplace has evolved since the launch of the iPod. Today there are digital streaming services, voice-activated speakers and smartphones that can house and play music. Consumers are able to send their music to a plethora of connected devices and create playlists with a tap or two on their mobile phones. 

The Walkman isn’t the only popular gadget to fade into obscurity as technology advanced. The Nintendo Game Boy, which was released in 1989 turned thirty earlier this year while digital cameras like the Canon Powershot, which launched in 1996, are now largely a thing of the past.  Digital video recorders like Tivo have been replaced by Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming content services. Same with VHS tapes and CDs. With the rapid pace of technology advances, it’s anybody’s guess what will become obsolete next. 

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